Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Holiday “road toll” examined

Despite every holiday period being followed by black headlines trumpeting something the newspapers call “the holiday road toll” (a ritual undoubtedly part of a Calvinist heritage preaching every pleasure must be paid for), the number of deaths on roads in the holiday period is actually no more statistically than they are at any other time of year. 

This is in spite of newspapers attempting to divine meaning in numbers that themselves represent too small a sample from which to divine anything.

In fact, as Chris Worthington from Infometrics points out in one of those great “check-your-premises” posts, it’s astonishing to discover that while everyone drives a heck of a lot more during their holidays, fatalities in general occur only 20% more frequently than they do at non-holiday times, and injuries only 5% more.  Which is to say, as Worthington does say, “that, despite the large amount of media attention given to it, the holiday period is not strikingly a more dangerous time to drive.”

And on the general “road toll” (that grim Calvinist cliché used to suggest  the near-inevitability of some bodies being forced to pay the piper for venturing out onto the sinful tarmacadam of terror) Worthington has more good news:

    “Annual road fatalities have fallen from around six per 10,000 vehicles in the early 1950s to about one now – modern drivers have just 20% the annual mortality risk of drivers two generations earlier.”

So why, then, do we require all those interminal tax-paid TV ads warning us against enjoying ourselves when we get out and about behind the wheel?  You’d have to wonder, wouldn’t you.


  1. Maybe... just M A Y B E all the ads and publicity are working, then...?

  2. It's just part of the NZ media's obsession with presenting every risk in life as a problem to be solved by more laws and regulations.

  3. Yeah Dave, that's much more likely than it being down to the improvements in road construction or vehicle active and passive safety.

    Could easily be tested by removing the propaganda machine completely.

  4. @Dave: You don't have to die wondering, Dave. Massey University research (old, but still on-point) says, "There is little evidence to suggest that the road safety or drink-drive television advertising made any change in drink-driving behaviour."

    Correlation is not causality -- and the onus is STILL on LTSA to prove their nightly nannying does have a causal effect other than nightly nausea, and a large hole in taxpayers' wallets.

  5. Don't forget that this advertising by government agencies helps to prop up TVNZ.

  6. PC's Massey Uni research link (hopefully fixed)

  7. There was some interesting research undertaken some years back in the USA. It was demonstrated that over the medium and long term speed limits do not reduce accident rates or injury and death rates. The number of deaths per passenger mile remains independent of such regulation. What was important (and also ignored by the authorities) was that vigorous enforcement of silly speed limits redulted in an increase in general crime and a decrease in respect for authority. The result is that time goes on the authorities and their enforcers demand more and more powers in an attempt to counter the growing trend to "lawlessness" and lack of respect of the public (in particular certain more active sections of it). And the pushback is that over time the public lose further respect and failures to comply accelerate. So 'round the cycle goes again.

    I don't think NZ is really much different to the USA in this regard.



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